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The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA Australia) launches the 2023 Jackson Bella Room Commission, Holding Ground, by artist Lucy Simpson on Friday 1 December 2023. Simpson’s Bella Room Commission will be open alongside a weekend of free art-making activities with the artist and artist educators specialising in Auslan and Audio Description, to coincide with the International Day of People with Disability on Sunday 3 December 2023.

Now in its tenth iteration, the Jackson Bella Room located in the Museum’s National Centre for Creative Learning, is a dedicated free space for people with disability or access requirements to experience contemporary art through sensory engagement. The Bella Room Commission is part of the Bella program.  In 2023, the Museum has already delivered 93 Bella and Access Programs to 2280 participants.

Lucy Simpson, is a Yuwaalaraay wirringgaa woman of Yuwaalaraay Country in north-western NSW, based in Sydney. As an established artist and designer, her process-led practice is inspired by Country, relationships, and notions of continuity and exchange.

Simpson’s Belle Room Commission, Holding Ground (2023) is intended to evoke the freshwater ‘speaks to a need that we all share to create time and space to connect to Country, to hold and protect, and to tune into its natural rhythms, energies and flow’.

The work provides an opportunity to slow down and tune in to the energies of our environment, and to reflect on the many ways that Country teaches and sustains us. Simpson invites participants to learn about and connect with Gunimaa/the natural world and each other through an immersive video, soundscape, and tactile materials in the space.

In this ‘dynamic, living environment’, the rich iron-red of Country envelops every surface of the room. Large river-stone forms ground the space and provide a place for rest and reflection beneath an undulating canopy of hand-harvested lomandra. An immersive video acts as a portal to the inland floodplains, lakes and rivers of Dharriwaa: a breeze gently animates eucalyptus leaves and river reeds, and a series of waves refract the afternoon light, reminiscent of cyclical ecologies that grow increasingly precarious from climate and industrial impact.

Simpson said, ‘The river reeds are a beautiful symbol for us of life and abundance. ‘After a seven-year drought in Dharriwaa, our big bird breeding ground and camp/ceremonial grounds filled, and the birds and life returned. The reeds hold this story and this memory and act as a marker to celebrate the breaking of the drought and that life force which surges through floodplain country when water returns.’

The room’s soundscape entwines nature sounds with songs in language by Lucy’s sister, the composer and musician Nardi Simpson, who sings for Country alongside other family members. Hand-carved wooden shelves mimic a flowing river to form a tactile gathering space for materials shaped from nature. Audiences are invited to gently hold and collect porcelain slip-cast emu eggs, 3D-printed kurrajong seed pods made of barley husks, and recycled glass castings of mussel shells in coolamons harvested by Ted Fields.

Developed in consultation and collaboration with culture makers and senior knowledge holders from the community, the materials and stories within the installation ‘connect people to place and contain universal expressions of life and culture’.

Opening weekend events
In celebration of International Day of People with Disability, Holding Ground opens this weekend with art-making activities and a special artist led workshop by Simpson, with support from lead artist educators specialising in Auslan and Audio Description.

The program includes:

— Access to the 2023 Jackson Bella Room Commission
— Activities in the Creative Studios
— Quiet space
— Opportunities for tactile and sensory experiences
— Staff trained in disability confidence

Free. Booking is required for some events, with tickets available soon.
Access Support
The MCA welcomes all visitors and is committed to making its programs and services accessible to everyone.

Contact the MCA reception for free access support at +61 2 9245 2400 or email mail@mca.com.au. Please allow 7 days for us to respond to your query.

The MCA Bella program was established in 1993 through the generosity of MCA patrons, the late Dr Edward Jackson AM and the late Mrs Cynthia Jackson AM, and the Jackson family, in memory of their late daughter and sister Belinda.